Rene - Hi welcome back to season four of QuBites, your bite-sized pieces of quantum computing. My name is Rene from Valorem reply and today we're going to talk about Microsoft quantum Katas and updates from Azure quantum and for this I’m very honored to have a special expert guest today, Vincent Van Wingerden. Hi Vincent and welcome to the show! How are you today?
Vincent – Hi! Nice to meet you. Yeah, I’m doing great. It's a lovely day here in Amsterdam, so pretty excited to talk about Quantum Katas today.
Rene- Awesome! First of all, maybe tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as it relates to computer science, quantum computing and related things.
Vincent – Sure! So, I work at Microsoft in Microsoft Netherlands actually. I do not have an education background in quantum computing nor computer science. Actually, I started economics, but I started working at Microsoft roughly five years ago and since, I would say, three years I'm into quantum computing. I've been working a lot on this field. I've been working on an open-source project which we'll be talking about a lot today, called the quantum Katas. So yes, since the past two years I've been really active in this field helping both customers and partners as well. Yeah, getting up to speed with quantum and see how quantum can add value to their business.
Rene – Awesome. Well also I love the experience and your diverse background because you know, it's like we don't just need computer scientists we also don't just need like physicists that have a PhD in physics and quantum physics. We need diverse roles and people that, you know, in our field as well of quantum computing. So, that's awesome! I'm glad you shot that.
Vincent - Maybe I can say one thing about that because there was a podcast, a while back, not that long ago and there actually they talked of this concept called a quantum translator which is a person who sits between the PhD student and a quantum person and the business who actually is able to translate. So, I try to see myself a little bit as that, I think. It's an awesome term. So, I copied it, it's not mine, but I, really think it's an awesome term to really explain what I do.
Rene – Awesome. That's lovely like quantum translator, right, so you're in the right show then, of course! So, let me ask you the first question I had in mind and so first of all, since you work at Microsoft, folks already probably have seen some previous episodes of QuBites here, where I had talked with your fellow Microsoft colleagues like Fabrice Frachon, Kitty, Anita, Bettina, Chris and we also had MVP Dr. Sarah Kaiser and where we talked all about Azure Quantum, QDK, Q# even QIR and all the other goodies and so can you share any news from the Azure quantum and Q# world that happened since the last time we talked in august with Anita.
Vincent - Yeah sure. So, there are two things, I think. So, first let's start up the QIO. So if you talked to Anita last time, you probably talked about QIO which stands for Quantum Inspired Optimization, which allows you to basically take a large optimization problem put it into Azure quantum and then we try to optimize it and that can be, for example, for very large financial portfolio or that can be for logistical problems. And one of the things which is pretty awesome is something called a squared linear combination term, so SLC term, so if you google this, you will get way more information but basically it allows you to write a way shorter, way more efficient, QUBOs and PUBO. So, this is really cool for people who are deep into the QIO part, also more async await stuff inside of the Python SDK, which can also be very helpful especially if you're, for example, trying to tune some parameters and try to do multiple optimizations on the same problem. So, that's one, there's the QIO part and then there's another extremely nice new thing in Azure quantum for the physical quantum hardware which is the fact that you can now run both Qiskit as well as Cirq components inside of Azure quantum. So all the circuits you have already built with Qiskit or with Cirq, you can now execute also on Azure quantum hardware. So that's really awesome.
Rene – Awesome! Loving this kind of open and cross platform collaboration and not just sticking to the kind of, okay we developed Q#, we developed QDK, you got to use that. No, it's all about openness and bringing in what people are using basically. So that's amazing! Love this whole mindset, if you will.
Vincent - Yeah, I agree fully and I really think it's in the spirit of Microsoft. The new Microsoft being open source, being really the enabler, being the platform where developers can execute their code.
Rene - Let's talk a little bit more about one of your, well let's say, babies or one of your focused topics, the quantum catalyst right, the Quantum Katas. But first of all, can you explain what that is, what is a Kata, what specifically is a quantum Katas?
Vincent – Yeah, so thank you. So basically, what we're trying to create is an online learning environment where people can learn quantum computing concepts and can learn their first algorithms but also more advanced algorithms. So, the Katas are basically very small bite-sized, maybe even programming exercises. So, it starts with the basics, which is in python, which is mathematics, right, multiplying matrices, understanding linear algebra and that starts in python. And then we start coming to the actual concepts of quantum computing. So what is a qubit, what are multiple qubits, and then using programming exercises in Q#, we will ask the participants to do some operations, for example, apply an x-gate on a qubit and what effect that will have and then slowly using these exercises ramp up to more complex algorithms and those algorithms can be very diverse. For example, you can do a quantum key distribution algorithm, or you can run, for example, some search algorithms. So what we do is, we give these algorithms in Jupyter notebooks, so these can be just run online. So if you go and search for the Quantum Katas, you will see GitHub page and there you will have a nice intro, a nice overview section. So get started, do the math and in every single project there's a link to a host a Jupyter notebook where you can actually execute all these little programming exercises. So you can do everything from within your browser. The only negative thing in doing it in your browser is that it doesn't store your results locally. You can also download it and run it locally and then you have all your progress locally. So that can be nice but otherwise if you want, you do not need anything more than a browser to actually start playing around with Q#, start playing around with quantum computing and I really would say, go and give it a try if you don't know how to start with Q#. This is basically the most ideal place. You just open up a web browser and get going inside of a Jupyter notebook.
Rene - That's awesome! I love the ease of access that Jupyter notebooks provides and love seeing it all over the place, being more and more adopted. Last time we also talked about that you know. I think this year it happened, right, that Azure quantum enabled Jupyter notebooks.
Vincent – Yeah, so inside of Azure quantum you can now also write your circuits and your whole programs inside of a Jupyter notebook, which are hosted inside of the Azure quantum environment. So that is really making it really easy for people to write and have all their circuits in a single place but then you actually have to get an azure quantum account and here you don't need to do that. So we're using a third-party service which hosts all the Jupyter notebooks. So, if you just go into the quantum Katas, there's a link and there's no sign up nothing. You can just go in and start coding Q# right away and start your learning process.
Rene - Awesome so you could even, like I’m showing my age here, so you could even go to an internet café and work on the quantum Katas.
Vincent – Yeah, go to your favorite coffee place and work out some Katas problems, yeah.
Rene- Well you know there were internet cafes back then, right, which have, you know hardware installed and then you could answer the internet because only a few people had internet at the home. It was many a few decades ago I would say.
Vincent - It was a little bit before my time to be honest maybe.
Rene - That's why I said I'm showing my age here a little bit. But also, Vincent, I think you already mentioned a little bit how folks can get started but maybe you want to repeat it and by the way we will include the links to the GitHub project also in our show notes, in the transcript. So how can people get started?
Vincent - Getting started this cannot be easier. So, you go to the link, or you google it, and the link is github.com/microsoft/QuantumKatas. So, there is a readme file and there you have an overview of all the different steps you can take. So, step one is getting started with some math problems. If you click that a Jupyter notebook will open and unfortunately in GitHub that is still read only. So if you scroll down there's a link to a hosted Jupyter notebook where you can freely actually execute all these programs and from there at the end of each notebook you have a link to your next notebook, you have a link to your next programming exercises or you go back into the main project where you will have a nice overview of all the chapters and from there you can again, for example, if you’ve already done your first qubit, maybe, you want to try and do something with two qubits or measure some qubits and then you can go straight into there and straight into a Jupyter notebook in which you can edit right away. So go to the link and then from there just follow along, follow the flow and then get into your first notebook.
Rene - All right so it sounds amazing. So, folks try it out of course and I’m sure you also are tracking feedback and so on. Is it just via GitHub like kind of issue tracker or how do you track feedback?
Vincent - Yeah that's the best way to do it. We are quite an active project. So, if you have an issue, if you have a question basically, so maybe, you are doing an exercise and you don't know the answer, just start opening a ticket and then we'll try to help you out from there.
Rene – Awesome! Well, we're already at the end of the show. Thank you so much Vincent for joining us today and sharing your insights. That was very much appreciated.
Vincent – Sure, you're very welcome and have a great day!
Rene - All right! And thanks everyone for joining us for yet another episode of QuBites, your bite-sized pieces of quantum computing. Watch our blog, follow our social media channels to hear all about the next episodes of season four and of course visit our website at Valoremreply.com to watch all the episodes from season one to four. If you missed some of the azure quantum episodes, you could always go back and watch them. So far take care and see you soon! Bye bye.